When drama undercut diplomacy


BY , The Japan Times

downloadIt has taken just weeks for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy to break down, thanks to his peace overture generating a boomerang effect. Modi thought he was making history by paying a surprise visit to Pakistan on Christmas Day. Few in India dared to ask whether visiting an adversary state unannounced and unprepared could really bring peace.

Today, Modi’s silence on Pakistan underscores the dilemma haunting his government — how to fix a broken Pakistan policy. New Delhi seems to be at a loss as to what to do next.

After Modi’s much-publicized hug of his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in the Pakistani city of Lahore, it took the terror masters who rule the roost in Pakistan barely a week to thank him for his visit by carrying out terror attacks through their surrogate Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group on an Indian air base at Pathankot and on the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. The Pathankot attack, which killed seven Indian troops, was the military equivalent of the 2008 Mumbai strikes on civilian targets by terrorists from Pakistan.

Now, as India presses the Sharif government for action against Azhar Masood and other JeM terrorist leaders for carrying out the New Year’s terror attacks at Pathankot and Mazar-i-Sharif, Pakistan has let loose Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 2008 cataclysmic Mumbai terrorist strikes. The United States in 2012 put a $10 million bounty on the head of Saeed, a United Nations-designated terrorist who founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba group.

In an example of how the Pakistani military, including the rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, uses terrorist surrogates, Saeed has justified the Pathankot attack and warned India of more terror strikes.

Saeed’s very public life mocks not just the Obama administration’s bounty but also the Modi government’s fond hope that Sharif — Pakistan’s impotent prime minister who has ceded key powers to the military — would rein in his country’s terrorist proxies. Indeed, Saeed’s latest actions, including staging rallies across Pakistan, including one that he himself led in the Pakistani capital, have helped to highlight the Modi government’s strategic naivete. They also show that the U.S. bounty on his head is just to placate New Delhi and buy its cooperation on Pakistan.

Pakistan has never honored international norms or its own solemn commitments. For example, when Sharif visited the White House in October, the joint statement said the visiting Pakistani leader apprised Obama about Pakistan’s resolve to take “effective action against U.N.-designated terrorist individuals and entities, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates, as per its international commitments and obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).”

U.S. President Barack Obama did not question Sharif about the public activities of Saeed, Azhar and other terrorist proxies or about Pakistan’s violation of the Security Council and FATF requirements in the case relating to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a Lashkar-e-Taiba leader whom Pakistan arrested and charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan failed to investigate the source of funds used to bail out Lakhvi in April 2015.

Modi took office in May 2014 with a prudent approach toward Pakistan — inviting Sharif to his inauguration but sidelining the Pakistan issue so as to keep the focus on foreign policy priorities where progress could be made. In September 2014, while addressing the U.N., Modi made clear that “a serious bilateral dialogue with Pakistan” was only possible “without the shadow of terrorism,” urging that country to “create an appropriate environment” for talks.

But later Modi succumbed to pressure from the lame-duck U.S. president, who has not only shielded Pakistan from international sanctions but has also boosted American aid significantly to that renegade state. The U.S. heavily funds the Pakistani military even as sections of the Pakistani Army and intelligence actually work against it, including aiding the killing of American troops next door in Afghanistan through their surrogates, the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

After Obama’s New Delhi visit in early 2015, Modi’s Pakistan policy transformed conspicuously. He resumed bilateral dialogue unconditionally, only to invite new terror attacks in India’s Punjab and Kashmir states. Still, he paid a surprise visit to Pakistan.

The attack on the Pathankot air base by Pakistani gunmen constituted an act of war. Yet Modi’s only public comment thus far on that attack has been to blame it on “enemies of humanity.” Even when he visited the air base after the attack, he said nothing. If Obama had said nothing when he visited San Bernardino, California — where a married couple of Pakistani origin killed 14 people in December — he would have been roasted by his critics.

It was naive of Modi to think that by supplying Pakistan communication intercepts and other evidence linking the Pathankot attackers with their handlers in that country, the terror masters there would go after their terror proxies. Pakistan is currently carrying out investigations into the Pathankot strike, not to prosecute those behind it but to identify the attack’s operational deficiencies so that the next attack by its terrorist proxies is better planned. That is why it is seeking even more evidence from India.

According to a flawed argument, the only choice for India is between continuing useless talks with Pakistan and waging a full-fledged war. Worse still, some Indians believe that India has no choice but to keep battling Pakistan’s unconventional war on Indian territory. This means treating cross-border terrorism as an internal law-and-order problem and bringing yourself under siege.

Wisdom lies in fighting an unconventional war with an unconventional war that is taken to the enemy’s own land so as to drive home the message that the foe’s aggression is not cost-free.

Today, however, Modi’s Pakistan policy lies in tatters. Modi’s Pakistan visit, in fact, illustrated the difference between diplomacy and drama. By putting the emphasis on drama, Modi undermined Indian diplomacy.

The Indian public is sick and tired of the national leadership’s acts of commission and omission that have made the country repeatedly relive history. According to Indian Army chief Gen. Dalbir Singh, 17 terrorist-training camps in Pakistan close to the border with India are still operating. So, India must brace itself to further cross-border terrorism. The enemy will strike at a time and place of its choosing.

With Modi’s credibility at stake, it is difficult to believe that he will continue with a business-as-usual approach toward Pakistan. But if his government wants history to stop repeating itself, it must develop a credible counterterrorism strategy.

Long-time Japan Times contributor Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist and author of nine books, is a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and a Richard von Weizsacker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

© The Japan Times, 2016.

China Flexes Its Naval Muscles to Project Power Far Beyond Its Shores


Since 1949, China has been redrawing its frontiers. This still remains an unfinished task for its rulers.

Brahma Chellaney, China-US Focus


Boosting naval prowess and projecting power as far away as the Middle East are at the center of China’s ambition to fashion a strongly Sino-centric Asia. This will be at the back of U.S. President Barack Obama’s mind when he hosts ASEAN leaders at a February 15-16 summit in Sunnylands, California, with his secretary of state John Kerry already urging Southeast Asia to show unity in response to Beijing’s territorial encroachments in the South China Sea.

Several developments underscore China’s determination to take the sea route to achieve regional dominance — from its frenzied creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea and its rapidly expanding submarine fleet, to its recent admission that it is establishing its first overseas military base in the Indian Ocean rim nation of Djibouti, located on the Horn of Africa. The Middle East base at Djibouti represents a transformative moment in its quest for supremacy at sea, a goal highlighted by its official white paper “China’s Military Strategy,” which last summer outlined a plan for the navy to shift focus from “offshore waters defense” to “open seas protection.”

After China’s inroads into strategically located Indian Ocean nations like Sri Lanka and the Maldives, President Xi Jinping’s latest trip to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt point to the broader Chinese ambitions in the Middle East, a region where political turmoil and Russia’s military intervention in Syria are already altering the delicate balance of power. China has thrown down the gauntlet to the U.S. by deciding to set up its base in Djibouti, which serves as the Pentagon’s main intelligence-gathering post for the Arab world and the critical shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

China boasts one of the fastest-growing undersea fleets in the world. It has already surpassed the U.S. submarine fleet in quantity but not quality. But as it works to further expand its force of diesel and nuclear attack submarines, its territorial and maritime assertiveness and muscular actions are prompting neighboring countries, from Japan to India, to strengthen their anti-submarine capabilities.

Beijing’s increasing submarine forays into the Indian Ocean — the bridge between Asia and Europe — draw strength from its more assertive push for dominance in the adjacent South China Sea, where it continues to push its borders far out into international waters in a way that no power has done before elsewhere.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and Beijing understands that very well, especially because its claim of historic right over virtually all the resource-endowed South China Sea is weak and legally untenable. China thus has set out to achieve effective control, a key principle in international law for determining legitimate ownership of a territory.

This is exactly the same strategy the People’s Republic employed in the past to advance its territorial claims elsewhere, such as the Himalayas. In fact, no sooner had the communists seized power in Beijing than China began gobbling up the then-independent Tibet — a conquest that enlarged its landmass by more than one-third and changed Asia’s water map. Decades later, the redrawing of national frontiers remains an unfinished task for the rulers in Beijing.

The artificial islands in the South China Sea — a global trade and maritime hub — not only arm China with a great bargaining chip but allow it to forward deploy military forces hundreds of miles from its shores. In the process, China is positioning itself at the mouth of the Indian Ocean.

Indeed, Beijing appears to be using the South China Sea as a testing ground for changing the Asian geopolitical map. To advance its larger geostrategic interests, China is assertively using geoeconomic tools, such as the Maritime Silk Road and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which was launched January 16 by Chinese President Xi Jinping at a ceremony in Beijing. The Maritime Silk Road — designed to link China’s eastern coast with the Indian Ocean region and the Middle East — presents itself as a benign-sounding new banner for the country’s “string of pearls” strategy.

Make no mistake: China’s expanding submarine fleet is suited not for Southeast Asia’s shallow sea basin but for the Indian Ocean’s deep, warm waters. This explains why China is setting up a naval hub in Djibouti, building a naval base at Gwadar, Pakistan, and wanting access to port facilities around India, like it has already secured in Sri Lanka.

China’s territorial expansions in the South China Sea, without incurring any international costs, are whetting its growing interest in the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific. This shows that the South China Sea is critical to the contest for influence from the Middle East to the Pacific.

Yet, the Obama administration has focused its concern on safeguarding freedom of navigation through the South China Sea, not on finding ways to stop China from altering the status quo in its favor. ASEAN disunity has also aided China’s strategy.

Emboldened by international inaction and a series of crises that have helped divert global attention, Beijing has been feverishly turning low-tide elevations in the South China Sea into small islands by dredging seabed material and then dumping it using pipelines and barges. In the process, it has been creating new “facts on the ground,” including military facilities, for enforcing an air defense identification zone without having to declare one.

China’s militarization of the South China Sea not only threatens freedom of navigation in the South China Sea but is also encouraging aggressive Chinese coastguard patrolling. Hanoi, for example, has accused Chinese patrols of frequently intercepting Vietnamese fishing boats, ramming them, damaging equipment, and beating up crews.

Against this background, the South China Sea has emerged as the symbolic center of the international maritime challenges of the 21st century. The region is important even for countries in the Middle East and Europe because what happens there will impinge on larger maritime security. Indeed, developments in the South China Sea — the world’s newest maritime hot spot — carry the potential of upending even the current liberal world order by permitting brute power to trump rules.

The sea’s centrality to the international maritime order should induce likeminded states to work closely together to positively shape developments, including by ensuring that continued unilateralism is not cost-free. Only sustained pressure can persuade Beijing that its future lies in cooperation and not confrontation.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including, most recently, “Water, Peace, and War.” He is also Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research.

Upholding the Asian Order


Brahma Chellaney

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

China's President Xi Jinping meets with the guests at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launch ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

China’s ambition to reshape the Asian order is no secret. From the “one belt, one road” scheme to the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, major Chinese initiatives are gradually but steadily advancing China’s strategic objective of fashioning a Sino-centric Asia. As China’s neighbors well know, the country’s quest for regional dominance could be damaging – and even dangerous. Yet other regional powers have done little to develop a coordinated strategy to thwart China’s hegemonic plans.

To be sure, other powers have laid out important policies. Notably, the United States initiated its much-touted strategic “pivot” toward Asia in 2012, when India also unveiled its “Act East” policy. Similarly, Australia has shifted its focus toward the Indian Ocean, and Japan has adopted a western-facing foreign-policy approach.

But coordinated action – or even agreement on broadly shared policy objectives – has remained elusive. In fact, a key element of America’s Asian pivot, the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, does not just exclude China; it also leaves out close US allies like India and South Korea.

That is not the only problem with the TPP. Once the lengthy process of ratifying the deal in national legislatures is complete and implementation begins, the impact will be gradual and modest. After all, six members already boast bilateral free-trade agreements with the US, meaning that the TPP’s main effect will be to create a free trade area (FTA) between Japan and the US, which together account for about 80% of the TPP countries’ combined GDP. The conclusion of the ASEAN-initiated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – which includes China, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, but not the US – is likely to weaken the TPP’s impact further.

Compare this to the “one belt, one road” initiative, which aims to boost China’s financial leverage over other countries through trade and investment, while revising the maritime status quo, by establishing a Chinese presence in areas like the Indian Ocean. If President Xi Jinping achieves even half of what he has set out to do with this initiative, Asian geopolitics will be profoundly affected.

In this context, Asia’s future is highly uncertain. To ensure geopolitical stability, the interests of the region’s major players must be balanced. But with China eager to flex the political, financial, and military muscles that it has developed over the last few decades, negotiating such a balance will be no easy feat.

As it stands, no single power – not even the US – can offset China’s power and influence on its own. To secure a stable balance of power, likeminded countries must stand together in backing a rules-based regional order, thereby compelling China to embrace international norms, including dispute settlement through peaceful negotiation, rather than military intimidation or outright force. Without such cooperation, China’s ambitions would be constrained only by domestic factors, such as a faltering economy, rising social discontent, a worsening environmental crisis, or vicious politics.

Which countries should take the lead in constraining China’s revisionist ambitions? With the US distracted by other strategic challenges – not to mention its domestic presidential campaign – Asia’s other powers – in particular, an economically surging India and a more politically assertive Japan – are the best candidates for the job.

Both India and Japan are longstanding stakeholders in the US-led global order, emphasizing in their own international relations the values that America espouses, such as the need to maintain a stable balance of power, respect the territorial and maritime status quo, and preserve freedom of navigation. Moreover, they have demonstrated their shared desire to uphold the existing Asian order.

In 2014, while visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, took a veiled swipe at Chinese expansionism, criticizing the “eighteenth-century expansionist mindset” that was becoming apparent “everywhere around us.” Citing encroachment on other countries’ lands, intrusion into their waters, and even the capture of territory, Modi left little doubt about the target of his complaint.

Last month, Abe and Modi took a small step in the direction of cooperation. By jointly appealing to all countries to “avoid unilateral actions” in the South China Sea, they implicitly criticized China’s construction of artificial islands there, which they rightly regard as a blatant attempt to secure leverage in territorial disputes – and gain control over sea lanes of “critical importance” for the Indo-Pacific region.

Clearly, both Japan and India are well aware that China’s ambitions, if realized, would result in a regional order inimical to their interests. Yet, while they are committed to maintaining the status quo, they have failed to coordinate their policies and investments in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, both strategically located countries vulnerable to Chinese pressure. This must change.

Asia’s main powers – beginning with Japan and India, but also including the US – must work together to secure a broadly beneficial and stable regional balance of power. To this end, naval maneuvers, such as the annual US-India-Japan “Exercise Malabar,” are useful, as they strengthen military cooperation and reinforce maritime stability.

But no strategy will be complete without a major economic component. Asia’s powers should move beyond FTAs to initiate joint geo-economic projects that serve the core interests of smaller countries, which would then not have to rely on Chinese investments and initiatives to boost growth. As a result, more countries would be able to contribute to the effort to secure an inclusive, stable, rules-based order in which all countries, including China, can thrive.

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

An oceanic threat rises against India


The rapid rise of a Chinese threat from the Indian Ocean risks completing India’s strategic encirclement by China

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, January 20, 2016


China’s rapidly growing submarine fleet is suited not for Southeast Asia’s shallow sea basin but for the Indian Ocean’s deep, warm waters.

China’s recent acknowledgement that it is establishing its first overseas military base in the Indian Ocean rim nation of Djibouti, located on the Horn of Africa, represents a transformative moment in its quest for supremacy at sea. With Chinese submarines now making regular forays into India’s maritime backyard right under the nose of its Andaman & Nicobar Command, New Delhi must now face up to a new threat from the south.

China’s growing interest in the Indian Ocean — the bridge between Asia and Europe — draws strength from its aggressive push for dominance in the adjacent South China Sea. Without incurring any international costs, it belligerently continues to push its borders far out into international waters in a way that no power has done before. Its modus operandi to extend its frontiers in the South China Sea involves creating artificial islands and claiming sovereignty over them and their surrounding waters. In just a little over two years, it has built seven islands in its attempt to annex a strategically crucial corridor through which half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes.

For India, still grappling to deal with the trans-Himalayan threat following China’s gobbling up of buffer Tibet, the rise of a Chinese oceanic threat signifies a transformative change in its security calculus. By building military facilities on disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, China is positioning itself at the mouth of the Indian Ocean. A Beijing-based defence website, Sina Military Network, last year claimed, even if implausibly, that 10 Chinese attack submarines could blockade India’s eastern and western coastlines.

Make no mistake: China’s rapidly growing submarine fleet is suited not for Southeast Asia’s shallow sea basin but for the Indian Ocean’s deep, warm waters. This explains why China is setting up a naval hub in Djibouti, building a naval base at Gwadar, and wanting access to port facilities around India, like it has secured in Sri Lanka. China’s consolidation of power in the South China Sea will have a direct bearing on India’s interests in its own maritime backyard.

With New Delhi slow to add teeth to its Andaman & Nicobar Command, Beijing is assiduously chipping away at India’s natural-geographic advantage. The longer term strategic risk for India is that China, in partnership with its close ally Pakistan, could encircle it on land and at sea. After covertly transferring nuclear-weapon, missile and, most recently, drone technologies to Pakistan, China has publicized a deal to more than double the size of that country’s submarine force by selling eight subs to it.

More broadly, the South China Sea has become critical to the contest for influence in the Indian Ocean and the larger Indo-Pacific region. Beijing views the South China Sea as a testing ground for changing the Asian maritime map.

The world has been astounded by the speed and scale of China’s creation of islands and military infrastructure in the South China Sea. Yet the international response to China’s expansions hasn’t gone beyond rhetoric. For example, the US, even at the risk of handing Beijing a fait accompli, has done little to challenge China’s expanding frontiers, focussing its concern just on safeguarding freedom of navigation through the South China Sea. As in the Himalayas and the East China Sea, the US has refused to take sides in the South China Sea in the territorial disputes between China and its neighbours. ASEAN disunity has also aided Beijing’s aggression.

Let us be clear: The South China Sea has emerged as the symbolic centre of the international maritime challenges of the 21st century. The region is important for India and even distant countries because what happens there will impinge on Asian power equilibrium and international maritime security. Indian Ocean security is linked to the South China Sea, which, Chinese Vice Admiral Yuan Yubai claimed in September, “belongs to China”. In fact, developments in the South China Sea carry the potential of upending even the current international liberal order by permitting brute power to trump rules.

The South China Sea’s centrality to the international maritime order should induce like-minded states to work closely together to positively shape developments there, including by ensuring that continued unilateralism is not cost-free. In fact, the “US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region”, signed a year ago, and the Pentagon’s subsequent “Asia-Pacific Maritime Strategy” emphasize greater maritime cooperation among democratic powers.

China’s neighbours, however, bear the main responsibility. India, for its part, is working to revitalize relationships with Indian Ocean Rim states. It has also stepped up its military diplomacy and is doling out billions of dollars in credit to key littoral states, including in East Africa. But with accidents and project delays blunting its naval power, India needs to speed up its naval modernization. Trade through the Indian Ocean accounts for half of India’s GDP and the bulk of its energy supplies, underscoring the imperative for India to strengthen its naval capabilities on a priority basis.

If ASEAN states and regional powers like Japan and India do not evolve a common strategy to deal with the South China Sea dispute within an Asian framework, the issue will be left to China and the US to address through a great-power modus vivendi, sidelining the interests of the smaller disputants. A unified strategy must give meaning to the recent appeal to all countries by Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe, the Indian and Japanese prime ministers, to “avoid unilateral actions”, given the “critical importance of the sea lanes in the South China Sea” for the Indo-Pacific region.

Failure to evolve a common strategy could create a systemic risk to Asian strategic stability, besides opening the path for China to gain a firm strategic foothold in the Indian Ocean and encircle India.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research. 

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Beijing’s Asia Pivot in 2016


In its own “pivot” of sorts, China looks set to pursue broader ties in the Asia-Pacific region in 2016, advancing initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and ramping up maritime and land trade corridors. Seven experts assess the challenges and opportunities in China’s relations with Southeast Asia, Japan, Central Asia, South Asia, the Korean Peninsula, and Australia in the next year.

Authors: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia, Council on Foreign Relations Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations Alexander Gabuev, Senior Associate and Chair, Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program, Carnegie Moscow Center Brahma Chellaney, Professor of strategic studies, Centre for Policy Research James Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Northeast Asian Politics, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy, Council on Foreign Relations Merriden Varrall, Director, East Asia Program, Lowy Institute. Interviewer(s): Eleanor Albert, Online Writer/Editor


Soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army march during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Beijing, China. (Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of strategic studies, Centre for Policy Research

China has embarked on major initiatives to change the region’s geopolitical map with its own Asian pivot. The Silk Road initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank epitomize Beijing’s efforts to reshape Asia’s security and financial architecture. In 2016, China appears determined to step up its efforts to fashion a Sino-centric Asia in place of the present regional order centered on a stable balance of power.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has articulated a more expansive role for China than any leader since Mao Zedong. His One Belt, One Road project, an expansive initiative to build up land and maritime trade routes,  is intended to extend the country’s commercial and strategic interests. The Maritime Silk Road and the overland Silk Road encompass Southern Asia and are linked by the $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Pakistan has given China exclusive rights to run the Chinese-built port at Gwadar for forty years, which, given its location at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, is expected to become a critical outpost for the Chinese navy. Beijing, in turn, has finalized the sale of eight submarines to Islamabad, a transfer that would more than double the size of Pakistan’s submarine force. China is clearly using Pakistan as a launch pad to play a bigger role in the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

China’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean are also reflected in its submarine forays in the region, which began in 2014, and the announcement that it would establish a naval hub in Djibouti, which overlooks the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Sina Military Network, a Beijing-based defense website with ties to the People’s Liberation Army, has claimed that ten Chinese attack submarines could blockade India’s eastern and western coastlines. The question of whether the Maritime Silk Road is just a benign-sounding new name for Beijing’s “string of pearls” strategy can no longer be dismissed.

Make no mistake: China’s strategic maneuvering in the Indian Ocean and Southern Asia draws strength from its muscular actions in the South China Sea, where it has incurred no international costs for creating artificial islands to host military facilities and expand its sea frontiers. Beijing’s territorial nibbling in the Himalayas and its damming of international rivers on the Tibetan plateau are also part of its effort to change the status quo.

© Council on Foreign Relations, January 5, 2016.

Loosening Japan’s pacifist bonds

The U.S. could benefit from a revision of Tokyo’s anti-defense constitution

By Brahma Chellaney – – Washington TimesJanuary 4, 2016


The international spotlight on Japan’s prolonged economic woes has helped obscure one of Asia’s farthest-reaching but least-noticed developments — the political rise of the world’s third-largest economy. By initiating national-security reforms and seeking a more active role in shaping the evolving balance of power in Asia, Japan wants to stop punching below its weight and take its rightful place in the world.

Japan’s quiet political resurgence is reflected in various ways — from the government working to strengthen security arrangements with the United States and build close strategic partnerships with other major democracies in the Asia-Pacific to a grass-roots movement at home for changes in the country’s U.S.-imposed pacifist constitution.

Japan’s passive, checkbook diplomacy is giving way to a proactive, western-facing approach focused on the Asian mainland, the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. The single biggest factor driving Japan’s political rise is the ascent of a muscular China.

Japan is the world’s first constitutionally pacifist nation. The constitution’s Article 9 says “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” No other national constitution in the world goes so far as to bar acquisition of the means of war or to renounce “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.”

Japan’s increasingly vocal critics of the constitution say it does not reflect the values, culture and traditions of Japan.

In fact, the Japanese Constitution was hastily written and imposed by an occupying power. Supreme Allied Commander Douglas MacArthur made his occupation staff write the constitution in one week so that it was ready by Abraham Lincoln’s birth anniversary on Feb. 12, 1946, although it did not come into force until May 1947.

The American success in disarming Japan by disbanding its military, imposing a pacifist constitution, and overhauling its education system, however, engendered its own challenges. It did not take long for the United States to realize that it had gone too far in creating a demilitarized Japan. In 1953, Vice President Richard Nixon called the constitution “a mistake.”

America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union, the Communist takeover of China, and China’s entry into the Korean War helped change U.S. policy toward Japan. Through a major reinterpretation of the very constitution it had imposed, the U.S. encouraged Japan to reconstitute its military as “Self-Defense Forces” so as to make the country the lynchpin of America’s Asian strategy.

Japan’s recent reinterpretation of the constitution’s Article 9 to assert its right to collective self-defense was small in comparison. Tokyo has also relaxed its longstanding, self-imposed ban on export of arms, thus opening the path to building closer security cooperation with like-minded countries.

With Japan’s nationalist impulse to play a bigger international role now rising, its domestic debate on national security and constitutional reform is set to intensify.

Further national-security reform beyond what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has carried out is, from a legal standpoint, linked to constitutional reform. For example, there is a limit to the extent to which the Article 9 prohibitions can be reinterpreted without enacting a constitutional amendment.

The Japanese Constitution is also unique in that it defines no head of state. It stripped the emperor of all but symbolic power. This was by design: The United States wanted to have the emperor as merely the symbol of Japan so that it could use him during the 1945-52 occupation years without the monarch being able to rally his people.

Likewise, the force-renouncing Article 9 was designed to keep Japan as America’s client state so that it would never pose a threat to the U.S. again.

But today, U.S. security interests would be better served by a more confident and secure Japan that assumes greater responsibility for its own defense and for regional security.

The Japanese Constitution, however, is among the hardest in the world to revise. It is doubtful that any proposed constitutional change — even after winning approval with the mandated two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Diet — can secure majority support in a national referendum in order to take effect.

The large protests against Mr. Abe’s 2015 security legislation permitting the Self-Defense Forces to engage in “collective defense” were a reminder that the U.S.-instilled pacifism remains deeply rooted in Japanese society. For example, a 2014 survey revealed that just 15 percent of Japanese (compared with almost 75 percent of Chinese) were willing to defend their country — the lowest figure in the world.

Let’s be clear: Enduring peace in Asia demands a proactive Japan. If Japan fails to carry out further reforms of its postwar institutions and policies to meet the new regional challenges, it could erode its security.

The United States spawned the problem that Japan confronts today — how to cast off the constitutional albatross. America must now be part of the solution because its own geostrategic interests demand that Japan play a proactive role in regional affairs and do more for its own defense. This Japan can do within the framework of the longstanding security treaty with Washington. If the U.S. were to openly support constitutional revision in Japan, it would help blunt criticism from the country’s powerful pacifist constituency and from China.

Constitutional and national-security reform in Japan would help underpin the central goal of America’s Asia-Pacific strategy — a stable balance of power. Although rising powers tend to be revisionist powers, a politically resurgent Japan, strikingly, is seeking to uphold the present Asian political and maritime order. Washington would do well to aid the continued political rise of this status quoist country, which is determined to reinvent itself as a more competitive and secure state.

Brahma Chellaney is the author of nine books, including, most recently, “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).

Saudi Arabia’s Phony War on Terror


Like a drug cartel claiming to have launched a counternarcotics drive, the Saudi-led “anti-terror” coalition includes all the world’s terror sponsors

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

downloadBERLIN – Containing the scourge of Islamist terror will be impossible without containing the ideology that drives it: Wahhabism, a messianic, jihad-extolling form of Sunni fundamentalism whose international expansion has been bankrolled by oil-rich sheikhdoms, especially Saudi Arabia. That is why the newly announced Saudi-led anti-terror coalition, the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, should be viewed with profound skepticism.

Wahhabism promotes, among other things, the subjugation of women and the death of “infidels.” It is – to quote US President Barack Obama’s description of what motivated a married couple of Pakistani origin to carry out the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, California – a “perverted interpretation of Islam,” and the ideological mother of jihadist terrorism. Its offspring include Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and the Islamic State, all of which blend hostility toward non-Sunnis and anti-modern romanticism into nihilistic rage.

Saudi Arabia has been bankrolling Islamist terrorism since the oil-price boom of the 1970s dramatically boosted the country’s wealth. According to a 2013 European Parliament report, some of the $10 billion invested by Saudi Arabia for “its Wahhabi agenda” in South and Southeast Asia was “diverted” to terrorist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Western leaders have recognized the Saudi role for many years. In a 2009 diplomatic cable, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton identified Saudi Arabia as “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Thanks largely to the West’s interest in Saudi oil, however, the Kingdom has faced no international sanctions.

cwwaaiaxiaa7fidNow, with the growth of terrorist movements like the Islamic State, priorities are changing. As German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said in a recent interview, “We must make it clear to the Saudis that the time of looking the other way is over.”

This shift has spurred the Kingdom to announce a “crackdown” on individuals and groups that fund terror. But, according to a recent US State Department report, some Saudi-based charities and individual donors continue to fund Sunni militants.

From this perspective, Saudi Arabia’s surprise announcement of a 34-country anti-terror alliance, with a joint operations center based in Riyadh, is a logical step, aimed at blunting growing Western criticism, while boosting Sunni influence in the Middle East. But, of course, the alliance is a sham – as a closer look at its membership makes clear.

Tellingly, the alliance includes all of the world’s main sponsors of extremist and terrorist groups, from Qatar to Pakistan. It is as if a drug cartel claimed to be spearheading a counternarcotics campaign. Listed as members of the alliance are also all of the jihadist citadels other than Afghanistan, including war-torn Libya and Yemen, both of which are not currently governed by a single authority.

Moreover, despite being touted as an “Islamic” alliance, with members coming from “all over the Islamic world,” the group includes predominantly Christian Uganda and Gabon, but not Oman (a fellow Gulf sheikdom), Algeria (Africa’s largest country), and Indonesia (the world’s most populous Muslim country).

The failure to include Indonesia, which has almost twice as many Muslims as the entire Middle East, is striking not only because of its size: Whereas most countries in the alliance are ruled by despots or autocrats, Indonesia is a robust democracy. Autocratic rule in Islamic countries tends to strengthen jihadist forces. But when democracy takes root, as in tolerant and secular Indonesia, the clash between moderates and extremists can be better managed.

Saudi Arabia’s dysfunctional approach is reflected in the fact that some alliance members – including Pakistan, Malaysia, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority – immediately declared that they had never actually joined. The Kingdom seemed to think that it could make that decision on behalf of the major recipients of its aid.

Add to that the unsurprising exclusion of Shia-governed Iran and Iraq, along with Alawite-ruled Syria, and it is clear that Saudi Arabia has merely crafted another predominantly Sunni grouping to advance its sectarian and strategic objectives. This aligns with the more hardline policy approach that has taken root since King Salman ascended the throne in January 2015.

At home, Salman’s reign so far has meant a marked increase in the number of sentences of death by decapitation, often carried out in public – a method emulated by the Islamic State. Abroad, it has meant a clear preference for violent solutions in Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

A smaller Saudi-led Arab coalition has been bombing Yemen since March, with the goal of pushing back the Shia Houthi rebels who captured Sana’a, the capital, after driving the Saudi-backed government from power. Saudi warplanes have bombed homes, markets, hospitals, and refugee camps in Yemen, leading critics to accuse the Kingdom of deliberately terrorizing civilians to turn public opinion against the Houthis.

Saudi Arabia’s solutions have often controverted the objectives of its American allies. For example, the Kingdom and its Arab partners have quietly slipped out of the US-led air war in Syria, leaving the campaign largely in American hands.

But beyond Saudi Arabia’s strategic manipulations lies the fundamental problem with which we started: the Kingdom’s official ideology forms the heart of the terrorist creed. A devoted foe of Islamist terrorism does not promote violent jihadism. Nor does it arrest and charge with “terrorism” domestic critics of its medieval interpretation of Islam. Saudi Arabia does both.

This speaks to the main shortcoming of today’s militarized approach to fighting terrorism. Unless the expansion of dangerous ideologies like Wahhabism is stopped, the global war on terror, now almost a generation old, will never be won. No matter how many bombs the US and its allies drop, the Saudi-financed madrassas will continue to indoctrinate tomorrow’s jihadists.

© Project Syndicate, 2015.